Lauren Leto — co-founder of Texts From Last Night — on what media can learn from the social web

Give us a brief summary of who you are / what you do.

I’m Lauren Leto, co-founder of Texts from Last Night, manager of Findings.com, author of Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere. Basically, I guess I’m a bookworm party girl.

Where do you get your news?

Twitter. It’s the fastest way to hear what’s most pertinent to my life. I follow a lot of people in my line of work and the top of my feed is always the most important news to me. Beyond that, I also see a lot of what’s going on in the world via TFLN submissions,  when Michael Jackson died, that’s how I found out! It’s crazy how quickly people submit their funniest take on current events.

So, you’ve got a book coming out next month, but you’re also co-founder of Texts From Last Night and manager of Findings. Talk about a collision between old and new media!

Crazy, right? Although, the book started out as a blog post, much like other non-fiction books being published today; the barriers between what’s put on the Internet and publishing are breaking down.

Most people have probably heard of Texts From Last Night, but may not be as familiar with Findings, tell us about it.

Findings is an easy way to quote from web pages. Our goal is to collaborate across platforms – meaning also taking quotes from books, though there’s a walled garden issue with ebook platforms. We believe with time these walls will be broken down and ideas from books will be able to be connected with ideas from the Internet. A greater understanding of ideas occurs with collaboration.

Even though TFLN and Findings are totally different, both focus on quotes; where did the interest in sharing them come from?

I’ve always been a big reader so anything text based is fascinating to me. I used to be the girl with quotes all over her AIM status, on all her notebooks.

Which TFLN submission do you wish could’ve been yours? 

This is a great question!

I love this one: (781): I was just told by a cop that my party was the most epic party they ever crashed.

It reminds me of a party my roommate and I threw celebrating our 21st birthdays, it was an insane time.

Does it surprise you how willing people are to share their lives on the internet?

People love to talk about themselves, it’s surprising how in detail they get with Facebook friends. I think people feel better by disclosing publicly, to take control of the narrative, to broadcast their perspective.

If you ran a media company, how would you leverage that propensity to share in a way that would make your product more relevant?

Oh God, reality TV shows. But, I wouldn’t want to leverage that propensity; I’d hope I could stay away from exploiting people’s desire to star in their own lives.

What are some practical ways media could be more in touch with conversations and the social aspects of the web?

Anonymous comments should be paid attention to; they’re the seedy underbelly of the Internet but they’re often speaking the real perspective. There’s more than hashtags on Twitter, know how your audience interacts with media you put out on the web. Are (users) turning your images into memes, are they being sarcastic when they post statuses about your product? Know how they’re reacting and use that to your advantage. Play into jokes. I think the Charmin Twitter account is a good example of this. They’re irreverent, they knew their product is hard to straight-faced promote so they went in a hilarious direction.

What apps/startups are you most excited about right now? Are there any out there that you could see media outlets using as a storytelling tool?

Beyond Findings, and an interesting feature addition we’re adding to Texts from Last Night, I’m a big fan of CollabFinder. It’s a way to find people to pair with on projects.

As far as storytelling, I think Branch does a great job of showing a measured discussion of a question. They also allow you to embed Branch conversations into your site so the conversation can take place in front of your audience. The way they let you lift Twitter conversations and turn them into Branch conversations is also very simple and brilliant.

What lessons have you learned in the startup world that could also benefit journalists?

Move quickly, adapt, change, iterate. Things might be one way today, completely different tomorrow. Stay on top of it, try to predict but never let your predictions block your vision of what’s really going on.

Happiness is ….

Wine and good conversation, a good book and free time.

(Kyle Ellis is a designer for CNN Digital in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter @kyleellis.)